Just about an hour by train southbound from London’s King’s Cross St Pancras station you will find an outer suburb of London called Lille, which happens to fall within French jurisdiction. One of the best things about this town, actually: THE BEST thing about this town is an art gallery called The Palais des Beaux-Arts de Lille, which houses the most important collection of fine art in France after the The Louvre in Paris.
Personally, I like the Palais des Beaux Arts far more than Louvre, because a) it’s do-able in one afternoon, and b) the building and galleries are full of magnificent sights to behold. It’s exactly what you expect an art gallery to be like: vast spaces, wondrous paintings and sculptures, and most important of all; a sense of solitude that is the very antithesis of the tourist-packed Louvre. No being shuffled fast and furiously past paintings of the great masters here; you can hang around as long as you like and contemplate at some amazing works by Delacroix, David, Goya, Rodin, Van Dyck, Reubens etc.
But bestest of all is a particular painting that warrants a pilgrimage on its own …
(Taken with my cameraphone at Palais des Beaux Arts de Lille.)
From a distance of a few metres, the object in the painting is recognisable to us Londoners in pin-sharp instantaneousness. But from a few centimetres away it looks like a hodge-podge mess of oil-paint randomness. That’s the wonder of impressionism. That’s Claude Monet. And that’s what makes Lille a “must visit” place.
(In the picture above you can see some French art students reproducing this painting. On the afternoon of my visit, at no other painting in the entire gallery was anyone else doing this.)